Politics

Government Responds to Story on Rural Development Ministry’s WhatsApp Group

Nitin Sethi responds to the rural development ministry’s defence to reports that it used a WhatsApp group to tell states to stop creating MGNREGA work.

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A laborer is seen working at a deisel powered crusher infont of a wind turbine. Credit: Land Rover Our Planet/Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

Ministry of rural development (MORD) clarifies: 

The reports are not a summary of the reality. It has questioned the intent of the government on the basis of an informal communication of a joint secretary of the department. The informal communication of a joint secretary does not override detailed written communication to states to implement MGNREGA in letter and spirit. The informal communication is regretted and it is not the view of the government. It, however, did not influence the provision of work on demand in states.

The facts on employment generation in MGNREGA in the current Financial Year and especially in the month of September are as under.

Person-days Generated under MGNREGA.

Financial Year
Till Sep (PDs in Cr)
During Sep (PDs in Cr)
FY 11-12
110.10
10.65
FY 12-13
137.17
11.43
FY 13-14
102.12
11.12
FY 14-15
106.68
7.94
FY 15-16
101.39
14.95
FY 16-17
138.96
9.30*

*This number will increase as the data entry for the month of September is still in progress

From the table above it is clear that, there is an overall 21% increase in person-days generation in the current FY 2016-17 (so far), which is the highest ever in the last 6 years.

The employment generation in September 2016, shows an apparent decline compared to August 2016. However, the month of August-September-October, are lean months as workers also get on farm employment also. The monsoon in 2016-17, was normal and the states which had experienced severe drought in 2015-16 experienced good monsoon in the current financial year. It also needs to be noted that the employment provided as a percentage of employment demanded is normally in the range of 85-90%. In September, 2016, 84% of employment demanded was provided.  This figure will only go up as full data for September is entered on MGNREGA MIS. State-wise analysis of data shows that decline in person-days generated in September, 2016 was much higher in 10 states that were drought affected in 2015-16, clearly pointing to impact of good rainfall on demand for work under NREGA.

It also needs to be pointed out that distribution of labour budget across the year is planned by state governments based on demand for work in a particular Season/Month.

The Mahatma Gandhi NREGA is a demand driven programme. The ministry has issued instructions to open various avenues for capture of demand. Once the demand is captured, the government – both Centre and states, are committed to providing employment as per the provisions of the Act. It is pertinent to mention here that this financial year has had the highest ever budget allocation (Rs 43,499 crore) since the inception of the programme. The central government has made efforts to provide financial resources as per the demand from states and it is for this reason that the total expenditure already is more than 80% of the revised budgetary provision. It only shows commitment of the central government to demand based provision for wage employment during periods of distress.

The article also refers to unmet demand of States for funds under MGNREGA.  The central government assigns top most priority to release of funds on time but all such releases are governed by the basic requirements of the General Financial Rules (GFR) with regard to audited statement, utilisation certificate and other detailed submissions for funds as per a common agreed check list.  In all such cases the moment the General Financial Rules are complied with funds have been made available to the state governments on top priority. In the intervening period, states have been requested to even temporarily provide funds from state budget to ensure that wages are paid on time. On all such matters clear official communications have gone to the States to ensure that work is available to whomsoever who needs it, in the true spirit of MGNREGA.

Nitin Sethi responds:

1. The WhatsApp group is not a personal chat group run by the joint secretary. It is serviced and maintained by the rural development ministry and has the additional secretary and secretary, rural development also as its active members, besides NIC officials. It is covered under Section 2(iv) of the Public Records Act, 1993 which defines “public records” to also include “any other material produced by a computer or by any other device, of any records creating agency.” None of the other senior officials ever corrected their subordinate officer even as several such official instructions were sent through the group over months – many not in tune with MNREG Act. Besides, many states wrote officially as well to Centre in July-August for immediate release of long pending funds, including the chief minister of Karnataka personally, as reported by the paper.

2. The data in the table on person-days contradicts the ministry’s assertions. The data above shows: in all previous normal and above monsoon years (2010-13) when rains did better than even ‘16-17 the work registered and provided in the month of September have been substantially above that provided this year. Yet the work provided in September of these years was higher than in 2016-17.

3. The labour budget is proposed at the beginning of the year on a month-wise basis by the states but it is the Union rural development ministry which approves it based on its internal formula. This year the planned and approved work by Union rural development ministry was 980 million days less than what the states had asked for.

4. Out of the 80% money expended from the revised budget by October end, 76% had already been spent between the four months of April-July which is why the squeeze on finances from Centre led to a mere 4% additional spend by the Centre over the next two months of August-September. Out of the Rs 43,499 crore a revised allocation, Rs 12,581 crore were actually against liabilities of previous year – one of the highest ever in history of MNREGA. It left only Rs 30,918 crore for current year. Government’s MIS data shows that the total expenditure last year on MNREGA was Rs 43,905 crore.

5. The ministry’s MIS for the scheme as of October 17 itself acknowledges central government liabilities for 16-17 as upwards of Rs 5,000 crore with another high demand period of work under MNREGA yet to take off in winter. The MIS also reflects more outstanding liabilities from previous financial year. It also reflects that legally due compensation to workers for delay in wage payments has not been made, which if paid, would increase the governments’ liabilities yet further.

By arrangement with the Business Standard